Angels
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Angels

What the Bible Really Says About God's Heavenly Host

Michael S. Heiser

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eBook - ePub

Angels

What the Bible Really Says About God's Heavenly Host

Michael S. Heiser

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What does the Bible really tell us about the heavenly host? Everyone knows that angels have wings, usually carry harps, and that each of us has our own personal guardian angel, right? We all have some preconceptions about angels from movies, television shows, and other media, but you might be surprised to know that a lot of those notions aren't based on anything from the Bible. If you read Luke 1: 26–38 and imagine the angel Gabriel standing before Mary with neatly folded white wings, you're not getting that picture from anything the Bible itself says. What the Bible really says about angels is overlooked or filtered through popular myths. This book was written to help change that. It's a book about the loyal members of God's heavenly host, and while most people associate them with the word "angel, " that's just one of many terms the Bible uses for supernatural beings. In The Unseen Realm Michael Heiser opened the eyes of thousands to seeing the Bible through the supernatural worldview of the ancient world it was written in. In his latest book, Angels, Dr. Heiser reveals what the Bible really says about God's supernatural servants. Heiser focuses on loyal, holy heavenly beings because the Bible has a lot more to say about them than most people suspect. Most people presume all there is to know about angels is what has been passed on in Christian tradition, but in reality, that tradition is quite incomplete and often inaccurate. Angels is not guided by traditions, stories, speculations, or myths about angels. Heiser's study is grounded in the terms the Bible itself uses to describe members of God's heavenly host; he examines the terms in their biblical context while drawing on insights from the wider context of the ancient Near Eastern world. The Bible's view on heavenly beings begins with Old Testament terms but then moves into literature from the Second Temple period—Jewish writings from around the fifth century BC to the first century AD. This literature from the time between the Old Testament and the New Testament influenced the New Testament writers in significant ways. With that important background established, the book focuses on what the New Testament tells us about God's holy ones. Finally, the book reflects on common misconceptions about angels and addresses why the topic is still important and relevant for Christians today.

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Information

Jahr
2018
ISBN
9781683591054
CHAPTER 1
Old Testament Terminology for the Heavenly Host
Not surprisingly, understanding what the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) says about the members of God’s heavenly host must begin with the biblical text. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that merely detecting all the references in the Old Testament to angels accomplishes that task. As will become clear, there are a number of terms aside from “angel” that need discovery and consideration. But there is a preliminary step to casting that wider terminological net.
Before we encounter the range of terms for the beings who serve God in the spiritual world, we need to grasp the fact that a given word will not necessarily yield the same kind of information about those spirit beings. To illustrate: the label “spirit being” tells us only about the nature of a particular being (it is not embodied), not what that being does in God’s service or its particular status in God’s heavenly bureaucracy. This last sentence directs our attention to three kinds of information, all of which are relevant to the terms we’ll consider in this chapter:1
Terms that describe nature (what the members of the heavenly host are or are like)
Terms that describe status (the hierarchical rank of the members of the heavenly host with respect to God and each other)
Terms that describe function (what the members of the heavenly host do)
Old Testament descriptions of the members of God’s heavenly host typically fall into one of these categories, with occasional overlap. Our task in this chapter is to survey the terms in each category. We will reserve lengthy discussion of what these terms teach us about the heavenly to chapter 2.
TERMS THAT DESCRIBE NATURE
1.“Spirit” (rûaḥ; plural: rûaḥôṯ)
The Old Testament makes it clear that the members of God’s heavenly host are spirit beings—entities that, by nature, are not embodied, at least in the sense of our human experience of being physical in form.2 This spiritual nature is indicated in several passages. The prophet Micaiah’s vision of Yahweh, the God of Israel, reads as follows:
I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; and the LORD said, “Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?” And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit [rûaḥ] came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, “I will entice him.” And the LORD said to him, “By what means?” And he said, “I will go out, and will be a lying spirit [rûaḥ] in the mouth of all his prophets.” And he said, “You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.” Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit [rûaḥ] in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has declared disaster for you. (1 Kgs 22:19–23; compare 2 Chr 18:18–22)
There are two important observations to make in this passage. First, the members of the host of heaven are identified as spirit beings in this passage (v. 21). Second, this spirit being is sent by God to “be a lying spirit” in the mouth of Ahab’s prophets (vv. 22–23). We are therefore not supposed to read this passage as though its point was that God gave Ahab’s prophets some sort of internal emotional anxiety or psychological confusion—as though God was troubling their individual spirits, their minds and thoughts. While rûaḥ can certainly be used to describe a person’s intellect and emotional state (e.g., Mal 2:16; Ps 32:2; Prov 15:13),3 1 Kings 22:19–23 clearly identifies the lying spirit as a member of “all the host of heaven,” who await instruction from their King. This spirit either took control of the minds of Ahab’s prophets or influenced them to speak unanimous deception to the wicked king.4
The divine throne room scene in 1 Kings 22:19–23 is therefore useful for considering other instances where rûaḥ may point to an unembodied entity but where ambiguity exists. In this regard, the following passages are relevant:
Abimelech ruled over Israel three years. And God sent an evil spirit [rûaḥ] between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech. (Judg 9:22–23)
Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit [rûaḥ] from the LORD tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit [rûaḥ] from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit [rûaḥ] from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well.” (1 Sam 16:14–16)
The next day a harmful spirit [rûaḥ] from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand. And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David evaded him twice. (1 Sam 18:10–11)
The princes of Zoan have become fools,
and the princes of Memphis are deluded;
those who are the cornerstones of her tribes
have made Egypt stagger.
The LORD has mingled within her a spirit [rûaḥ] of confusion,
and they will make Egypt stagger in all its deeds,
as a drunken man staggers in his vomit. (Isa 19:13–14)
When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit [rûaḥ] in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’ ” (Isa 37:5–7)
In each of these passages, a “spirit” (rûaḥ) is sent from God and that spirit affects an individual or group in an adverse way. Are these descriptions best understood as God in some way affecting the internal state of mind of the individuals in view or dispatching an unembodied entity to affect behavior?
One could easily conclude, based on the usage of rûaḥ to describe a person’s thoughts, feelings, and decisions, that the latter perspective makes sense. However, in light of 1 Kings 22:19–23, which uses quite similar language to that found in these passages, it is at least possible that unembodied divine spirits in the service of Yahweh are in view.5
A potential ambiguity of another sort is produced by the fact that the Hebrew word rûaḥ can also mean “wind.”6 This semantic possibility produces uncertainty in regard to interpreting Psalm 104:4.
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
covering yourself with light as with a garment,
stretching out the heavens like a tent.
He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;
he makes the clouds his chariot;
he rides on the wings of the wind [rûaḥ];
he makes his messengers [malʾakim] winds [rûḥôṯ],
his ministers a flaming fire. (Ps 104:1–4)
The term malʾakim is the plural of the Hebrew word translated “angels” throughout the Hebrew Bible (malʾak). In the ESV translation, that plural is rendered “messengers.” These messengers are referred to as “winds” in the ESV, but the Hebrew (rûḥôṯ) could just as easily be translated “spirits.”
It isn’t uncommon for commentators to understand Psalm 104:4 as referring only to winds—elements of nature or the weather—and not divine beings. The ESV reflects this perspective, as its translation effectively has God poetically making the winds his messengers. Goldingay’s comments are representative of this approach: “Other aspects of creation then form the means whereby God affects other aspects of this management. The clouds are Yhwh’s limousine, ...

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